For those interested in space travel — or who have at least watched Interstellar or Alien one too many times — it’s easy to get caught up on what floating through zero gravity would feel like. What’s less discussed is the smell. Astronauts have long reported the scent of gunpowder, ozone, and burnt steak in their helmets and the confines of the International Space Station, but more recently a report from space.com has created buzz speculating on what other scents might exist further than anyone has ever traveled in the galaxy.
Because space itself is an airless vacuum, humans can’t get a true whiff. But it’s believed space would include the smell of hydrogen sulfide (which smells like rotting eggs), gasoline, and even alcohol based on what we know about the molecular makeup of the cosmos — not exactly what anyone would embrace as their signature perfume. So, to offer an alternate olfactory experience of the dark, forbidden abyss, we asked four expert perfumers what they imagine space could smell like. From raw leather accords to metallic and lunar rose notes, ahead are the scents of the galaxy — that don’t include overcooked meat.
As it turns out, someone has already created a space perfume. Meabh McCurtin, master perfumer for Maison Margiela REPLICA Under the Stars Eau de Toilette, was inspired by the mystery of the dark and infinite sky. “When you look up at an open sky full of stars there is a feeling of awe — that is what I wanted to transcribe with this fragrance,” she says. This includes the top notes of black pepper and cinnamon leaf essence that she says “carry a spiritual dimension” while adding the element of untamed nature.
For November Nichols, owner of Chémin, the smell of space would transcend the ordinary. “Tasked with the ethereal and otherworldly challenge of capturing the essence of floating in space, I imagine a scent that embodies the vast, mysterious expanse of the cosmos,” she says. This includes shimmering top notes that are “reminiscent of the cold, steely touch of a meteorite.” “Cosmic aldehydes [notes that can give a fragrance a soapy or metallic property] add a sparkling, almost effervescent quality, mimicking the sensation of stardust glittering in the infinite darkness,” she says.
Rodrigo Flores-Roux — Givaudan’s vice president of perfumery and the nose behind Eauso Vert’s newest scent, Fruto Oscuro — has also previously researched space smells as fragrance inspiration. “It was around the references of metallic and burnt notes, but I omitted sulfur-eggy and ammonia nuances, to say the truth,” he says. This research included an intense, steely ingredient called Rosyrane, which he says, “can remind you of electricity or a fizzled-out electrical fuse.”
For Frank Voelkl, principal perfumer at Firmenich, capturing the smell of floating in the galaxy is all about “being weightless and fluffy, translucent textures.” He imagines the coldness of space materialized in ozonic airy and fresh notes, light florals, and sheer woods. McCurtin’s heart notes of the REPLICA scent Under the Stars are also woody — including the essences of earthy Cypriol and Virginian cedarwood.
At the base of the imaginary fragrance of space, here’s where we get slightly burnt meat-adjacent. The base notes of Under the Stars include leather and a smoky Oud infusion that, according to McCurtin, “capture the mysteries of a dark, mystical night surrounded by stars.” Flores-Roux’s rendition of an intergalactic scent contained Opoponax resin for a richly toasted note, he says, “it was so pronounced that it’s unearthly.” He called the result a UFO — or an unidentified fragrant object).
Nichols imagines the base notes of outer space to conjur “dark matter musk and void vetiver.” “The base of the fragrance is where the true enigma of space is captured,” she says. Combining a deep, enigmatic scent, with a smoky, earthbound note captures both the elusiveness of the universe’s unseen matter and the cosmic dust and ancient debris that float through the endless void. “The scent of space is a harmonious blend of the unknown and the familiar, a scent that feels both alien and intimately connected to the human soul,” she says.